Focus groups are facilitated discussions between a small number of people who share experience or knowledge as a specific community or demographic.
They have been defined as “carefully planned series of discussions designed to obtain perceptions on a defined area of interest in a permissive, non-threatening environment” (Kreuger and Casey 2009:2). They are effectively an interview of multiple people all at the same time, which can enrich the discussion surrounding each question that is asked.
- Time to do: recommended 1-2 hours
- Staff: minimum of 1; 2 is preferable if discussing sensitive topics or if recording data in field notes
- Cost: £
- Equipment: stationery and other materials depending upon the creative methods
- small groups of 5 to 15 people
How to do it
- Develop 5 or 6 questions for a semi-structured conversation.
- Select a place where participants feel comfortable to attend and once there, ensure the comfort of participants.
- Ensure equal communication channels for all e.g. where necessary provide language interpreters and also consider the needs of any people with speech or hearing deficits.
- Ensure participants know what is expected of them and what they can expect from the facilitator – usually provided in a participant information document (written or read out/verbal).
- Ensure informed consent is provided by all participants.
- Allow enough time for people to understand and to complete any necessary forms e.g. consent, equality diversity monitoring.
- Ensure that all participants agree to the methods being used to record the data (such as writing field notes, recording or videoing the session). This agreement should form part of their signed consent.
- An ice breaker exercise is recommended particularly if the group members do not know each other but also to help participants focus on the topic in question.
- Allow adequate time for participants to consider and then answer and discuss each question.
- Summarise the feedback to each question before you move on to the next one, to validate with participants that you have perceived them correctly.
- Provide opportunity for further comment, including confidential anonymous comment outwith the group, for participants who feel unable to speak in front of all participants.
- Summarise at the end of the session to validate the comments with the whole group.
- Ensure all participants have a named contact if they need to talk to someone as a result of any positive or negative feelings and emotions that are stirred from participating.
Focus groups can also incorporate a variety of other participation tools such as participatory mapping, emotional touchpoints and dot voting.
- Allows for in-depth discussion
- Allows ideas to be explored more than individual surveys and questionnaires
- A good platform for diversity
- Creative methods to obtain answers ideas and thoughts can create a more informal atmosphere that can help people feel more comfortable to speak out
- Needs adequate time
- Requires skilled facilitation to ensure members can participate fairly and as much as they wish
- Requires skilled support when emotive topics are discussed
- Need to ensure an alternative communication channel for those who feel unable to speak in front of the whole group
- Since groups are small it cannot be assumed that all perspectives of members of a community or a particular demographic are included or considered.
Kreuger, R.A. and Casey, M.A. (2009) Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research 4th edition. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications